The dramatic reshaping of Graduation Season was hardly the primary focus of most college and university administrators when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but it has become a source of increasing disappointment as spring semesters draw to a close around the country. For many seniors, the hurried good-byes shared in early March will be the last time they will be together as a class; the abruptness and stress of those farewells are hardly the final, enduring memories any institution would wish for its graduates.
For Wyoming Catholic College, however, the gradual reopening of the state of Wyoming presents an opportunity not afforded to most of its peer institutions. Regular conversations with the County Health Officer and city officials about the College’s summer activities and plans for the fall semester coincided with Governor Mark Gordon’s staged plan for relaxing March’s public health restrictions, and the possibility of a physical (rather than a virtual) Commencement began to emerge. “Prudence prevents us from bringing the entirety of our student body back to Lander to celebrate the Class of 2020’s accomplishments,” said President Glenn Arbery. “But Governor Gordon’s updated orders allow us to give our thirty-seven seniors one last gift: an in-person (slightly-delayed, safely socially-distanced) graduation.”
The precautions advised by the Governor and the Wyoming Department of Health will be in full effect: careful social distancing; cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain; frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces; enacting the same safety requirements required of local restaurants in the College’s cafeteria; regular screening for COVID-19 symptoms; no more than 25 people in a confined space at one time; avoiding close contact with people who are sick, etc. More than a third of the seniors remained behind in Lander when the shutdown was announced; the remainder will be returning alone (rather than accompanied by family and friends), in order to reduce the number of people traveling to Lander. Additionally, the College’s remaining students have been asked not to return to Lander during Commencement Week, leaving residence halls and the College’s public spaces much less populated than they were during the academic year. The ceremony itself will be closed to outside attendees, will be hosted at the private residence of a College employee on the edge of town, and will be held outdoors, taking full advantage of Wyoming’s dominant social-distancing feature: wide-open spaces.
“It won’t feel the same as in years past,” said Dean Kyle Washut, “since previous Graduations have always been such public events. And we’re sorry that the Class of 2020 won’t have the chance to experience the warm send-off the town of Lander has bestowed on previous classes. But we’re grateful for the opportunity to give our seniors a bit more closure to their time here at Wyoming Catholic than is currently possible at most other institutions around the country. It is yet another reminder that we live in a truly ‘one-of-a-kind place,’ and we’re so grateful to call Wyoming home. This opportunity comes with some obligations, and we’re doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our students and our community!”
The graduation ceremony will feature a (virtual) commencement address from EWTN’s Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., as well as a Senior Address from an elected member of the Senior class. It will take place at 10:30am on Saturday, May 23rd, and will be live-streamed on the College’s website and Facebook page.